Monday, February 22, 2010

How Do You Blow the Stink Off?

Last week, in Bonnie's post about Wielding Words with Wisdom, she used a phrase that I haven't yet gotten out of my mind. She said we writers need to step away from the keyboard and "blow the stink off," from time to time.

It made me wonder what other authors do to clear the air (so to speak) when they aren't writing. Do they really do all the things they think they want to do (clean the toilets, clip their toenails) when they are actually writing? Or do they find other ways to express their creativity?

I know Camy Tang is an Olympic-class knitter. Some authors travel: Diann Mills once journeyed near the war zone in Sudan - on her own, all 97 lbs of her - to research her next novel.

What do I do? I walk. I take pictures. And everywhere I go, I make a game of noticing things other people might not.

How about you?

You mean, besides take a daily shower, Katy?

Well, I walk miles each day with my dog, Tillie. Being out in the fresh air, where my mind can wander as well as my feet, gets blood flowing to my brain again. But to truly regenerate, I must draw deep into a forest or scritch along a desert trail or snowshoe to a lake shrouded with mist. No matter what, this happens once a week, weather permitting and sometimes not.

I also collect characters in airports. That's why God created cell phone cameras. I arrive home with a "wanted wall" of characters and notes scribbled on boarding passes.

I have noticed that the worse thing I can do for my creativity is spend too much time in front of the computer. When the computer crosses the line from being a tool to being a lifestyle, I know I must step back and into the arms of the people I love.
I sure am boring. Hope the rest of the girls come up with something more interesting.
I'm a chatterer - I love to yap with friends. There's nothing like lunch at McNally Robinson (our swanky bookstore complete with cozy restaurant serving London Fog tea, triple chocolate cake and, if you're so inclined, salads with bleu cheese and dried fruit in them). A good chat does wonders for the ol' pipes.

I also like to engage in a little extracurricular creativity. I love music, so I'll sing, or look up new music to download (legally! I pay for my music!). In summer, I'll tend my sad little garden in the backyard, play badminton with my hubby (I let him win), and ride bikes with the kids (which looks a great deal like me jumping off my bike every three feet to grab my daughter who is, assuredly, falling off her bike.) Sometimes the simple act of going outside is enough for me to recharge. In Talking to the Dead, my character Kate hasn't gone outside in several days. I wrote this passage:

"I felt the wind on my face for the first time in weeks. Its freshness, the joy of it, caught me by surprise."
Once, when I was very stuck for words, I took my daughter to the park and pushed her on the swings. After awhile she was playing on her own and I sat down and wrote an entire scene while I watched her push sand around. I've found it doesn't take a profound change or adventure to get my wheels turning again.
Sharon the hermit here. For me, there's no place I'd rather be than home. While I enjoy a fun get-together with friends or lunch with my girls, if I'm stuck on a scene or not sure where to go next, it'll be at home, alone, where I find my way, just not at my computer. I may take advantage of the need to think or clear my head by doing something around the house that I can do by rote, leaving my subconscious free to work on th eissue, Usually in no time at all I'm back to a productive writing session.
One other place where the creative juices flow, is riding in a car with my husband behind the wheel. For while I don't particularly like to travel, I do enjoy a road trip that takes us away from the masses. Both of us would rather take a 16-hour ride to Montana than a 2-hour ride to San Francisco. We can go, comfortably, for miles without saying a lot, and I find my mental wheels turn at a speed equal to our car wheels, so I'm usually scribbling as I go. (Patti, I love your "wanted wall of characters." I too love to people watch, but I've never taken their pictures. Don't they have a word for that?!?)

Oh man, I am the most boring of all. And predictable: I have a friend who calls me and asks what I'm doing and if I say, "moving furniture," she asks, "So what are you supposed to be writing?"

But hey, rearranging my house (or drawers or other smaller space) frees my mind.

The only other solution is to read or listen to a really, really well-written book. Recently I devoured both Liars' Club and Reservation Road. The first book jarred me out of a major writer's slump, and the second one kept the momentum going. But of course -- I listened to them on audio, while I was cleaning house and rearranging my pantry.
Works for me.

I enjoy s pending time out on the deck when I need a break from writing. We have one of those faux-rock fountains from Lowe's that simulates a soothing mountain stream, and there are finches and hummingbirds that fight for food, although it is plentiful. Nature refreshes me.



Wendy Paine Miller said...

So fun to read ways you all enjoy blowing off the stink (love that title). I quilt, refurbish furniture, play with our Samoyed, read and get outside.

I think it's key to step away from the computer. We have to get our material from somewhere, right? :D

~ Wendy

Kathleen Popa said...

Wendy, you refurbish furniture! I'm impressed. I have several pieces with scratches and mars, and I have decided that's just part of their "patina." So much easier that way.

Let me assure you neither Patti or Latayne are boring. And Patti, how can anyone be boring when they're spying on nice unsuspecting people in the airport?

Latayne, I never, ever move furniture. It's strange since... or maybe because both my sister and my mother have always done that. To me, you find the perfect spot for things and leave them there. To collect dust bunnies.

Anonymous said...

When I read Patti's post about photographing people in the airport, I thought that I'd better bring extra money on my trip to Grand Rapids where she and I will be in April. (We're discussion circle leaders, on the topic of "upmarket fiction," at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing.)

I had been under the impression that if you photograph someone in a building, you had to get a signed model release. (I was planning to bring extra money to post bail for Patti. Now, how pitiful would she look behind bars?)

However, model releases are not always necessary. One of the rules for photographing someone in a public place is to ask if the photographee has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Here's a helpful post from USAToday on that subject:

Okay, Patti. Snap away! And I won't pretend I don't know you!

Carla Gade said...

I visit the Novel Matters blog!

I also love to be outside and taking photos along the countryside, or curled up with a book.

Kathleen Popa said...

Carla, we are so glad you visit here! (And that goes for all of our readers, as well.)